By: Genevieve Olivares, Team Ahimsa
Plastic is all around us. The United States is the 2nd largest producer of plastic in the world, behind only China.
And just last month, a powerful investigative journalism piece on the plastics industry unveiled a decades-long, multi-million dollar marketing effort to highlight plastic as a recyclable material. But did you know that less than 10% of plastic ever produced has actually been recycled?
On your next grocery run (or delivery these days) try to take notice of all the plastic surrounding your food. It’s normal to wrap produce in plastic bags that then go in more plastic bags. Each container of strawberries, the cookie trays, the plastic wrap, the sandwich bags - how many sandwich bags did you discard from your children’s lunches last week?
The most recent data collected shows nearly half of all trash generated ends up in landfills. China no longer accepts our leftover plastic so we have a big problem on our hands in the U.S. The NPR/Frontline investigation found that scientists and plastic industry leaders knew as far back as the 1970s that recycling plastic wasn’t a viable option. Documents reported that plastic breaks down each time it’s recycled and it’s an expensive process. To put in simply: it’s cheaper to make more plastic than to recycle it.
“But, my plastic has a little triangle on it, so I know it will be recycled.” Think again. I, like so many others, believed this to be true as well. It turns out that the little triangle was part of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to imply that a water bottle is completely eco-friendly. But chances are it will head straight to a landfill or our oceans.
A recent study found that every single seafood sample tested had microplastics in it. Every single one! As plastic breaks down over time, it never really disappears. It just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, infiltrating our ocean life and wreaking havoc on its ecosystems. We now know that there more microplastics in the ocean than stars in the Milky Way
It’s easy for our plastic problem to be an “out of sight, out of mind” dilemma. But as these recent investigations and scientific reports point out, the effects of plastic are reaching far beyond our landfill borders.
And as we learn more about the dangers of plastic, the United States continues to increase production. According to the EPA, in 2017, 35.3 million pounds of plastic were produced in the United States – that’s more than double the amount produced in 1990 (17.1 million tons) and more than quadruple production in the 1980s (6.8 million tons)!
So what are some easy ways to live more sustainably?
- Grab a stainless steel water bottle and use it religiously. Take it with you everywhere. Fortunately, we are seeing water-fill stations at airports, gyms, our homes, etc. It’s also easier on our wallets and helps us stay hydrated!
- Reusable cloth grocery bags - make sure you have them handy! I used to regularly get to the store and remember all of my bags were at home. Just keep a bunch in your car so you always have at least one or two to get you through a trip. Having the bags is great, but you should be able to actually use them!
- Skip the plastic wrap - Have you seen the cool beeswax cloth wraps!? They are awesome and you can make them freshly sticky every few months. I watched this cool tutorial online the other day and I loved watching that ironing motion and the wax flare out - rather addictive LOL
- Invest in some reusable, cloth sandwich and snack bags. They’re easy to clean and offer versatile designs. Have your child help choose the one they love to get him or her excited to eat whatever’s inside!
- Anything you see in plastic, try to find its sustainable counterpart. For example, instead of that plastic baby spoon, grab a metal one (Ahimsa will be offering cutlery sets soon!) Plastic straws? Go metal! Another easy thing to just carry around with you all the time.
- Bring your own glass or stainless steel containers to restaurants for to-go boxes! Seriously. It may seem crazy, but it’s amazing for several reasons.
- It’s not plastic so it won’t end up in a landfill next week
- It’s not plastic so it won’t leach harmful chemicals into your food when you reheat it
- Your food will taste like it’s supposed to when you reheat it (remember that stainless steel doesn’t go in the microwave!) Personally, I pop it in the toaster oven or heat it up on the stove so it comes out restaurant-quality fresh, then portion out some of it on our Ahimsa plates.
- Avoid buying new, plastic toys. I understand this isn’t always totally avoidable, but regifting reduces waste and is better for your wallet. There are amazing sustainable and toxic-free wooden or stainless steel options as well that will last much longer.
- Buy larger, refill bags for containers such as household cleaning spray bottles or personal care items. Not only do the bulk refills typically use less plastic, but they are often cheaper per volume! Our family has been subscribing to Grove and there are awesome options like this laundry detergent (the lavender smells sooooo good!). You can buy it in bulk bags and it reduces your amount of plastic dramatically. The starter kit comes with a glass, refillable dispenser. There’s also this starter bundle which would be a great gift! Also, I recently purchased this toothpaste and it’s amazing. It’s a metal tube and doesn’t have anything you wouldn’t want in your toothpaste!
Of course, this list could go on and on - and if you implement these things one at a time you’ll likely end up finding your own ways to eliminate how much waste your family produces.
Like exercise or dietary changes, just getting started is the hardest part. Hopefully these links and ideas will help guide you in the right direction! If you have any questions about any of these products or if you have ways you’ve made changes that you’d like to share, be sure to leave them in the comments!
Do it for your kids. Do it for the planet. Do it for yourself!